Hackney road closures 'will cost lives', says volunteer ambulance service

Hatzola ambulance

Hatzola ambulance - Credit: Archant

A volunteer ambulance service believes its ability to operate is being "impeded" by road restrictions and has urged Hackney to "reconsider" the schemes. 

Hackney Council has been rolling out traffic-calming intiatives around the borough which are designed to encourage people to walk and cycle and make the streets cleaner, safer and less congested.

However, Hatzola, which provides round-the-clock emergency assistance for people both within and outside the Jewish community, says the impact of the road closures on the service "will only get worse" when proposed School Street schemes are rolled out more widely in the north of Hackney.

It believes School Streets, where roads outside school gates are closed for an hour at drop-off and pick-up times during terms, will "cost lives, rather than save them".

The registered ambulance service in the Stamford Hill area, funded by the Jewish community, wrote a letter to Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville. 

It reads: "With so many roads proposed for closure, including key thoroughfares, at the start and end of each school day, we will be unable to reach those who need urgent medical assistance in a timely manner."

Hackney Council has stated Hatzola is exempt from School Streets restrictions when responding to emergencies.

Mayor Glanville said: “I really value the work that Hatzola does in Hackney. Both officers and I have had extensive engagement with them and the wider community about these interventions and been very clear that emergency services - including Hatzola - are exempt from School Streets restrictions when responding to emergencies."

However, although the ambulances have access, Hatzola says volunteers often use their own cars to respond to calls and those vehicles, it says, are not exempt. It says it was advised instead to appeal any traffic fines received. 

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According to the service's own records, Hatzola's volunteers have used their own cars on roads affected by the proposed closures nearly 700 times in the past year. 

The service also said the measures have shifted traffic to surrounding roads, increasing congestion and causing delays. 

"A delay of just a few minutes really does make a difference," Hatzola said.

It emphasized a commitment to working with the council to create a greener borough, but not "at the expense of saving lives".

The council however, "believes School Streets have a minimal impact on traffic in surrounding areas", is monitoring traffic levels and is willing to make adjustments to the schemes if necessary. 

A council spokesperson said: “With 160 people killed or seriously injured on Hackney’s roads in 2018, and one of the highest premature death rates in the country from poor air quality, we are also clear that not tackling traffic outside our schools in any part of Hackney is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, other emergency services weighed in.

Insp Bruce Middlemiss, of the Met's Roads and Transport Policing Command, said the Met does not "sign off" on road restrictions but is "merely" a consultee.

He says a multi-agency group, chaired by TFL, meets regularly and includes local authorities, the Met Police, London Ambulance Service (LAS) and London Fire Brigade (LFB). 

All parties are able to raise concerns, give feedback and recommendations. 

He added: "Every effort is being made to minimise impact on the emergency services’ day-to-day business."

An LFB spokesperson added: “We work closely with our local authority partners when there are any road closure proposals, and if we have any concerns that any changes may impact our response times, we will raise these and work with the local authority to find the best solution.”

It aims to get the first fire engine to an incident within six minutes and a second on the scene in eight minutes on average around London.

A LAS spokesperson said: "As the busiest ambulance service in the country, our focus is on achieving the best outcomes for ill and injured patients and ensuring we reach them in response times set by the government.

"We support measures to improve public health by reducing traffic and encouraging walking and cycling, but we know that changes to road layouts, traffic management schemes, and road closures all have the potential to impede our response to the most critically ill people."

They said LAS continues to work with TfL and local authorities on the subject of road closures. 

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